Does Your City Have High Asthma Rates? The Contributors And What Cities Can Do

Asthma is one of the most chronic diseases affecting people living in cities in the United States. Discover the main contributors and what can your city do to reduce asthma rates.

Asthma, one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States, is at a record high prevalence rate. This respiratory disease affects 24.8 million Americans, 5.5 million of whom are children, and is responsible for millions of emergency room visits and tens of billions of dollars in healthcare expenses.

Many factors, including heredity and family history, contribute to an individual's susceptibility to developing asthma. Air pollution, poverty, pollen, and the accessibility of health care are just a few extraneous factors that might impact the effectiveness of asthma management. Untreated asthma can cause difficulty sleeping, exhaustion, and poor concentration. Asthma-related absences from work or school place a financial burden on families and communities.

Asthma advocates do things like raising money for research into the disease and helping those who suffer from it emotionally. A person can aid with asthma advocacy in several ways, including monetary or time donations, membership in advocacy groups, or education and training. A simple first step is to vote for local, state, and federal laws that are helpful to people with asthma.

What Are the Main Contributors to Asthma in Cities?

truck unloading at a factory with pollution

Although much remains unknown regarding the causes of asthma, multiple studies have identified factors that exacerbate the condition in those predisposed to it. The main contributors to asthma in cities include:

1. Outdoor Pollutants

Outdoor air pollutants include ozone, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and lead. In urban cities, traffic and power generation are the main sources of outdoor pollution. Studies suggest that these air pollutants contribute to the onset of asthma. Specific air pollutants can induce airway inflammation and airway hyper-responsiveness, two characteristic features of asthma.

2. Exposure to Outdoor and Indoor Allergens

The first line of defense against allergic reactions and asthma attacks is the person's own environment. When pollen and mold levels are high, many people with allergies prefer to remain indoors. But indoor allergens like cockroaches, dust mites, pet dander, pollen, and mold can cause allergic asthma. Though air purifiers can assist, eliminating indoor allergens and irritants is the most effective method for enhancing air quality.

3. Poor Nutrition, Stress, or Obesity

Several studies suggest that certain nutrients (such as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D), as well as the consumption of fruits and vegetables, protect against asthma. On the other hand, stress, obesity, and a lack of exercise may have the opposite impact.

4. Exposure to ETS

New cases of asthma may be triggered by the irritating or sensitizing properties of the respiratory irritants found in environmental tobacco smoke(ETS), which include sulfur dioxide, ammonia, and formaldehyde. Exposure to ETS could compromise asthma control in those who already suffer from the condition.

5. Lack of Exposure Necessary for Healthy Lung and Immune Development

The development of a strong immune system and protection from the onset of allergies and asthma are assumed to result from early childhood exposure to microorganisms. Some research suggests that children who live in metropolitan areas may be deprived of vital experiences and exposures for proper lung and immune system development.

What Can Cities Do to Reduce Asthma Rates?

woman riding a bike in a city

Effective management of asthma involves four things: avoiding or reducing exposure to asthma triggers, taking the right medications based on how bad the disease is, keeping an objective eye on the disease with the help of a health care professional and the patient, and getting the patient involved in managing the disease. Here is what cities can do to reduce asthma rates.

1. Incorporate Environmental Justice Into Strategies to Reduce Health Disparities

Environmental justice ensures that all people, regardless of their color, race, national origin, or socioeconomic status, are treated fairly and allowed to participate in creating, implementing, and enforcing environmental regulations, laws, and policies. Implementing programs based on facts that work to improve health equity can help ensure that everyone has the chance to live a long and healthy life.

2. Identify Environmental Health Hazards

Asthma management requires attention to indoor and outdoor air quality. Cities need to keep track of the environmental and occupational factors that cause or bring on asthma attacks. Asthma surveillance should include getting data from cities about how many people have asthma and how occupational and environmental exposures affect asthma-related illness and disability.

Efforts to improve the environmental management of asthma include limiting exposure to allergens and irritants like environmental tobacco smoke and outdoor air pollution from ozone, sulfur dioxide, and particulate diesel matter.

3. Improve Access to Health Care

Cities must work together with the public and private sectors to eliminate the things that make it hard to get good asthma care and offer ongoing, comprehensive, high-quality health services for people with asthma. These services would be offered in the community, encouraging families to get involved while meeting their cultural needs.

4. Invest in Research on the Causes of Asthma and Develop a Strategy to Prevent It

Although statistics show that people of color, particularly Hispanics and African-Americans, are more likely to be hospitalized or die from asthma, further study is needed to determine why this is the case. For example, more research is required to determine if these differences are caused by more severe diseases in these groups, differences in health care practices and access to care, or if both cause them. 

One of the most important goals of the research should be figuring out how different environmental, socioeconomic, cultural, and genetic factors affect the severity of asthma. Once armed with information, cities can then go ahead and develop strategies to prevent asthma.

5. Encourage Community-Based Coalitions That Directly Address Asthma at a Local Level

Improving asthma management is a community-wide effort that requires participation from all sectors. Local coalitions of medical professionals, public health planners, managed care organizations, educators, housing and environment officials, and community outreach workers can promote better asthma care in the community.

Grants from the city to community organizations can help reduce the detrimental consequences of asthma by providing more people with access to high-quality health care.

How Can We Inspire Change at a Community-Level?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that community-based approaches like community air quality monitoring have successfully lowered levels of environmental allergens, school absences, and ED visits. Community air monitoring is generally a communal effort coordinated by individuals, organizations, and government agencies at the state, regional, or municipal levels.

Air quality monitoring includes taking samples of air and testing emissions. By breaking down air quality data by contaminant and time, you can better picture the surrounding air. Data collected through community-based air monitoring can be put to various purposes, from driving local mitigation and regulatory initiatives, to giving locally-specific air quality information that may help individuals decide to decrease their exposure. 

Community members may make well-informed choices about how they spend their time thanks to real-time updates to information about air quality and reporting of pollution events.

Become a Change Maker, a Sponsor, or a Community Partner With JustAir

At JustAir, we understand how crucial clean air is for a thriving community. Our goal is to raise awareness about the dangers of air pollution and to provide communities, especially those historically underserved, with the tools they need to keep their air clean. By partnering with us, you'll have access to the information you need to identify the cause of air quality issues and create effective, long-lasting solutions so everyone can breathe better. Contact us today for more information about air quality monitoring systems.

Darren Riley
July 28, 2021
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